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01st May 2018

Let’s all appreciate the genius of Hannibal Buress

Wil Jones

Hannibal Buress’ 2014 stand-up routine about the open secret of Bill Cosby’s rape allegations ultimately lead to the veteran comedian’s downfall. But there’s far more to his career than that.

In both his stand-up and interviews, Hannibal Buress seems pretty eager to make sure people know that he isn’t actually high all the time.

Just watching a few minutes of one of his sets, it’s easy to see why people would get that impression. But as anyone who’s ever been around stoners when you’re sober will tell you, blazed people are not actually much fun to be around. Hannibal Buress’ humour is far, far cleverer than ‘stoner comedy’. He has the laid back platonic ideal of what stoner humour should be – seemingly chilled and effortlessly low-energy, but actually perfectly controlled, and subtly sharp. You have to be on top of your game to do that.

Starting his stand-up career in 2009, the Chicago-born stand-up has slowly moved into appearing in comedy shows and movies. You’re probably most likely to know him from his supporting role from Broad City, the brilliant sitcom starring Illana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as two millennial girls trying to survive in New York. Buress plays Illana’s regular hook-up, Lincoln the dentist, and basically steals every scene he’s in by being the compete opposite to the two leads. Glazer and Jacobson are full of unrestrained energy and inventiveness, and occasionally rage – which makes anything Buress says in his deadpan delivery about a million times more funny. Sometimes literally just the pause before he talks makes me burst out laughing.

It goes further than this though. Broad City is a show about people whose lives are in disarray. Abbi and Illana are in their 20s, trying to figure things out, chasing dreams and dodging responsibility. Lincoln on the other hand is the only character in the show who has his life sorted out. He has a good job and is just, happy, y’know? Like, he’s just chilled and not worried. You see why Abbi and Ilana want to hang with him so much. Buress just exudes this strange laid back charisma that makes everything chill.

His small role in Spider-Man: Homecoming, where he plays Peter Parker’s gym teacher, has the same vibe. Homecoming is an underrated movie that works because it focuses on the minutiae of living in a superhero-filled fantasy world. And nowhere is that clearer that in Buress’ big scene. As he stands next to a TV while a hokey Captain America-led PSA plays, he’s not concerned with Infinity Stones or Chitauri, he’s just a dude trying to do his job. He’s more worried about getting shouted at by his superiors than Cap possibly being a war criminal.

There is also a weirdness to his humour to, and nowhere is this clearer than his other recurring TV supporting role, on Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show. Describing The Eric Andre Show to the uninitiated, but here goes: broadly speaking, it’s a talk show interspersed with hidden camera stunts. But only the interviews are edited to the point of incoherence. Sometimes the ‘celebrity’ interviews are just gormless lookalikes. But when they get real guest they get bombarded with surreal or overly personal questions, interruptions, exploding furniture, live animals, nudity, and basically anything else you can imagine. The show is deliberately filmed in an abandoned bodega, with the heating on full blast to make the guests feel as uncomfortable as possible. Look, just watch Wiz Khalifa getting freaked out.

The show also lead to Hannibal being part of a very adaptable meme earlier this year.

It may be the most anarchic programme in the history of television, using the talk show format as the loosest of frameworks. But amongst all the chaos, Buress plays Andre’s sidekick, and he mostly just stands dazed, overviewing the destruction. He’s not a confused onlooker, he’s a willing participant, but he’s a vital moment of calm the show needs. He’s like nothing else around him, yet he doesn’t look out of place, and it’s impossible to think of another comic who could fill that role.

The real life Hannibal Buress seems like just as cool a guy to hang with. When he was touring in Tokyo, he send out a tweet asking what was going down that evening in the Japanese capital, he ended up at Wrestlekingdom, the biggest event in Japanese pro-wrestling, after a few fans suggested it. When he couldn’t make the Spider-Man premiere, he found a guy off Twitter to go and pretend to be him.

There is of course the elephant in the room – the one part Buress’ story that I haven’t mentioned yet, and the thing that he is probably most well known for. On October 16, 2014, onstage at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia, Burgess did a bit where he openly referenced Bill Cosby’s sexual assault allegations. Such allegations dated all the way back to the 1960s, but no one in the media ever really spoke about them. Camera phone footage of Buress’ set went viral, eventually bringing down Cosby’s career and more and more of his victims came forward. And then after a drawn out legal process, Cosby was found guilty of indecent sexual assault in April.

That fateful set in Philadelphia set might end being what defines Buress’ career, but it really shouldn’t. He’s done far more than that. But from 2018, in the midst of #TimesUp and #MeToo, it shows him to be not just a really funny comedian, but decent guy who’s not going to let an alleged serial rapist get away with it.

This is important, because Hannibal Buress just seems like the coolest fucking guy and you just wanna hang out with.